Sunday, August 14, 2016

It's easy to take the good, but what about the bad and the ugly?

**Meet our dear friend, Kimberly. Her Whimsy story is one that will leave your heart racing until the very end. Relief finally comes in her life. Jesus. Only Jesus. Her story reminds us that the pain we experience is never wasted! Never. Never. Never wasted. Our suffering means something. Every single piece of our life has purpose. The good, the bad and the ugly all matter to God.

During an emotionally excruciating time in my life, I wailed and cried out to the Father, “Why?! Why do I have to go through this? WHY?”
Just as clear as if He was standing next to me, Father lovingly replied, “Because I want MORE for you.”
I knew in my spirit He wanted more for me- better for me. He did not want me to stay comfortable because comfort never produced growth in me. He had a better plan. Yes, pain was involved, but I had a deep understanding in my spirit that this “more” was intensely driven by love.
That has been a pattern in my life: there’s always more, there’s always better if I’m willing to trust my loving heavenly Father through the intense darkness, through the pain, and do the hard work. Growth will bloom. Life has been very, very hard, but Father has been very, very faithful.
He has allowed me to bloom like a stunning, yet thorny, rose growing out of the ashes. I’m stronger only because I am more deeply rooted in my Father’s unending love.
I have two testimonies: one I told before I was 17 and one I told after.  
My testimony before 17:
I was raised in an amazing Christian home. Both of my parents loved the Lord and talked constantly about Jesus. My older brother was a Christian, too. We went to church every week, served on committees, lead worship, and taught the youth. We had family devotions every morning around the breakfast table where we read “Our Daily Bread”. We lived on the most gorgeous 10 acres behind a state park. I spent most of my life outdoors, gardening, pretending to have to survive by eating wild onions washed in the “crik.” I felt intensely loved by a daddy who listened to me, fished and hunted with me, and dreamt with me about my future. It was a good life. Sure there were a few problems, but doesn’t everyone have secrets?
My testimony after 17:
When I was 17-years-old, I was serving as a leader in my youth group. Our church was hosting a “freedom in Christ” conference spanning a couple of days. I brought a friend who needed to hear the good news. The first night, the speaker revealed the statistic that 1in 3 girls are sexually abused.
God only knows the timing, but something in me snapped. I held it together for my unsaved friend’s sake, but for the next 24 hours, I sobbed and shook and wailed until I vomited.  I sobbed from a depth of my spirit that felt like a grand canyon. The pain I had stuffed for so many years flowed from me like the mightiest flood. There was no holding it back now.
The next night I put on a good face and attempted to do my work as youth liaison for the conference, but God had other plans. I broke down sobbing into my daddy’s arms in the last pew of the church. I barely could talk but through my cries, but I confessed, “My brother has done horrible things to me for as long as I can remember.”

JD (name changed), my brother, is ten-years-older than me and my only sibling. He abused me for years. I could just stop there, but “abused” is a word that can so easily be glossed over. ”Abused” is a semi-safe word, but I want to be genuinely vulnerable here for the sake of helping others.
My brother stole my innocence when I was a tender age of 2 years old (especially hard to swallow when I have a 2-year-old daughter now) and I finally broke my silence when I was 17. I suffered through 15 years of him touching, feeling, and arousing sexual desires before they were meant to be awoken- 15 years of him teaching me things sexually that many married couples don’t even do.
We did not have “technical sex” because he believed that would be “unchristian” of him to have sex outside of marriage (heavy sarcasm), but he abused me when we were children living in the same home. He abused me when he was married, and even when he had three children of his own. He abused me when people were around and when we were alone. He waited for the opportunity to sexually abuse me for 15 long years.
The showers I took many times afterwards stick with me the most… I would curl up and sob and feel so, so dirty. The water never washed it away. I felt the depth of my nakedness in those showers, so emotionally raw and so ashamed. He, like all abusers, twisted my mind so badly that I didn’t know what to do.
I avoided thinking about the abuse because I had to survive. So when it was happening, I’d “turn off” and disconnect from reality. I learned to live most of my life disconnected and not truly present. (I still struggle, even now, with “floating” as my counselors over the years have called it.)
It started when I was so young that I almost didn’t realize there was another way of life. And just in case I’d ever get the idea to stop it or tell someone, my brother deeply engrained into my psyche that because my body had a physical reaction (what God created it to do) that I was just as much at fault as he was. He forced me to believe that I liked it, asked for it and that it was consensual. He convinced me that if I talked, I would break my conservative Christian parent’s hearts.
But that evening on the church pew, I broke my silence. I told my parents and they believed me. They confronted my brother, and he confessed. It was handled within the family.
I was told to NEVER talk about it outside of my immediate family. I was instructed not to tell JD’s wife or anyone I might like to marry- don’t tell my husband even if I can’t perform sexually and don’t ever talk to a counselor, pastor, or friend, and especially never ever involve the law- they are from the devil.
I was told that I would “single-handedly destroy the family!” I suffered through depression, migraines, and all sorts of illnesses. I was always sick, crying, or sleeping. Sleeping was the best escape from the memories. I rarely dreamt about the abuse, so if I could just sleep all the time I didn’t have to see the memories replay in graphic detail in my mind.
Over the years, my family unraveled. I don’t blame myself (thanks to counseling), because it was already crumbling internally. I just brought the truth to light and there’s healing when scary secrets lose their power in the light.
I told my college roommates one by one. Later I fell for a great Christian guy at my college, and I told him everything (very much against my parents warning). I was also desperately praying that God would bring a woman into my life that had already traveled this road- someone who could help me overcome this. That guy, who I ended up marrying, worked at a church that had a free counseling program. He made my first appointment for me just after we started dating. My parents fought viciously for me not to go and were horrified that people knew and feared their reputation would be ruined in our community and church.
My parents said that if people found out, I couldn’t wear white when I got married because I would no longer be seen as pure!  They asked, “Why’d you let us go through the purity ring ceremony when you weren’t pure?” They tried to make me feel guilty and unworthy.
However, I disobeyed their warnings and received Christian counseling from two amazing women who had traveled a similar path. They gave me the guidance in Scripture to deal with my anger (which I claimed not to have), helped me understand God was angry too, how to use anger in a God-honoring manner, and how to forgive repeatedly every time a memory would come to mind.
They taught me to understand that reconciliation is NOT the same as forgiveness, and to follow Matthew 18’s guidelines concerning my brother because of his affair on his wife. They taught me that overcoming abuse is like the layers of an onion; new layers will need to be worked through my entire life and that’s normal and good. They helped me see how unresolved abuse spreads like a deadly infection, eating you alive from the inside out and infecting others around you. They taught me to see the generational cycles of abuse in my parents and grandparents.
For a long time, I fought the idea that abuse was deeply rooted in my family. I clung to the happy picture of my parents and family that I had built up in my mind for survival for so many years- that picture-perfect testimony I gave before I was 17. I refused to acknowledge that my father had been accused of molesting a friend of mine in the 5th grade. I blocked out accusations that both my mom and dad had abused other family members. I only wanted to admit the secrets of my brother.
My family continued to unravel and my brother began to admit things he’d done to his own children and wife. He was reported and the DA prepared a lengthy list of charges against him. My heart broke because I still loved him as my brother, but I knew he needed to be stopped.
However, JD got off on a technicality of statute of limitations during the years of abuse vs. current laws. He did not become a registered sex offender and can freely be around kids. His wife divorced him, and she was hospitalized for a mental breakdown. My parents were so embarrassed by it all that they left their church and drove an hour away to attend one where no one knew about our family.
Meanwhile, I tried to make it work with my parents. The nail in the coffin for my rocky relationship (understated) with my parents was when a different counselor said, “You know when your daughter has had a bad day, right? There’s no way in the world your parents didn’t see the signs you were being abused for 15 years!” She was right. Several experts have confirmed this to me.
My parents had created a household that was sexually charged with no healthy boundaries or privacy. I was encouraged to sleep in my brother’s room or on my parent’s floor until I left for college. Hearing them have sex and seeing my mother wear see-through nighties around the house only fueled the fire. Over the years, I’ve given my parents ample opportunities to choose differently; to protect me THIS time, but they never do.
I have two precious little girls, and with the sexual abuse accusations against both of my parents, I cannot allow my children to be around them. It would be devastating if I selfishly put them around dangerous people. I still struggle with longing for my mom and dad to be in my life and to let them see and celebrate my children. I ache for that, but they are not healthy people. I have to protect my girls.  

“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.  I remember it all- oh, how well I remember- the feeling of hitting the bottom.  But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal Love couldn’t have run out, his merciful Love could’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning.  How great your faithfulness!  I’m sticking with God (I’d say it over and over) He’s all I’ve got left.”  Lamentations 3:19-24 (The Message)
There is more to this life; more than just surviving. Father has given me amazing joy, amazing love, amazing compassion. Father has provided for me in ways that make people’s jaws drop. He has held me through all of steep valleys and amazing mountaintops. He continues to give me a deeper desire for more of Him. He’s given me the desire to be healed and used and filled and satisfied by His Spirit.

I am honored to use my story to help anyone who has walked a similar path. Helping others gives purpose to my pain. It’s also given me purpose to ensure a better life for my girls. I’m going to do for them what my parents couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t know how to do for me. There’s more for my precious daughters' lives too! Why should they spend the first half of their lives overcoming, when they could start from the beginning being powerfully used for the Kingdom?
My husband and I (both from rough childhoods) wrote a family mission statement that reflects our heart: “We are a family who strive to break generational cycles and replace bad patterns with healthy habits that form us all into people who make God smile.”
Father protects and He is strong (Psl 34:5, 73:26).
The Lord does what is right and fair for all who are wronged by others (Ps 103:6)
His heart breaks for those who are heart-broken (Ps 147:3).
He cries with those who are hurting (Ps 34:18).
He gets angry at the horrible things people do to one another (Psl 103:6)
He promises never to leave us and to hold us by the hand. To be our strength (Ps 73:23-26)
He loves us so much He sacrificed His Son for us (John 3:16)
He lavished such great love on us that we can be called the daughters of God (1 John 3:1)
Moreover, He turns beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3), victims into victors and He uniquely equips us to help others who are hurting in similar ways (2 Cor 1:2-5). He gives us the desires of our hearts and makes the desires of our hearts the same as His. To love, to help, to heal, to point people towards Jesus- the lover and healer of our souls.

“God of all healing counsel. He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  2 Corinthians 1:2-5
Thank you for allowing me to tell my story. I'm believing God He, too, will restore, heal, and redeem anything from your past to breathe hope and healing into your life. Jesus saves no matter who, what, when or where! HALLELUJAH! YOU are a child of the most high King, beloved. Lets wear our crowns proudly because of who He is and what He is doing in our lives.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Choosing to live unashamed

All of our stories are really every woman's story. The details may be different. The degree of tragedy may fluctuate. But the feelings of shame are deeply imbedded. Sometimes we soar, sometimes we limp, but let's stick together on this journey and propel forward into freedom so others can be free. We are meant to live--truly live--unashamed of whom God made us to be---today. {Unashamed by Christine Caine}

Meet our beloved sister, Holly. We all have a history, roads that make up our past, some harder than others and Holly's is one story full of many, dark roads. BUT,  Holly has overcome her past and the shame that comes with all these painful roads and we praise Jesus for that.  HALLELUJAH!

"Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land." {Exodus 23:30}

Little by little, Holly has moved into her promised land. 

I grew up in church (kinda).  In that super-small country, church, our family had seasons of faithful attendance and seasons of unfaithful attendance.  I accepted Jesus into my life and was baptized at the age of 10, but I was never discipled from that point on.  Our church didn't have a middle school or youth group, nor did any of the other churches in town.  Local teenagers of the 80's were just left to figure it out ourselves...or not.  I don't blame my parents for not guiding me better, because they really didn't know better themselves, I don't believe. They weren't taught stellar parenting skills. They were taught how to make a living and love their children. Those were simply the times back in their day.

I grew up in a loving home.  My basic needs were met.  I knew how to work hard, how to treat others with respect, and I knew I was loved.  I enjoyed life outside of the normal preteen and teenage anxieties. I was a cheerleader, prom queen, and always had a boyfriend (problem #1).  My entire identity was wrapped up in what others thought of me.  I wasn't complete unless I had approval from everybody else, but I was completely weak when it came to self-worth and self-esteem.  I'm not even sure why that was exactly.  From the outside, I'm sure it looked like I was the total package.  Inside, however, I never felt good enough.  I sought love and affection from the boyfriends I had.  That's how I thought the natural order of things went.  I never knew any different... In fact, all of us “good girls” typically behaved the exact same way in that respect.  None of us had role models or mentors pouring into us anything that would have told us any different.  Breaks my heart to look back at that now.

I wish I had truly known who I am in Christ way back then. The God-given crown I had been given at salvation was so far away from me during these years. 

I attended my first year of college on a dance team scholarship.  I cruised through the year doing my thing, enjoying college life, and not having a stinking clue what my direction should be.  I believe this made me restless and vulnerable, which led to a series of horrible and life changing decisions.  During that year, I met a man who was several years older than me. He was overwhelmingly charming, and I allowed him to influence me in all the wrong ways.  I quit college under the “I need to find myself” excuse, and ended up (oh Lord I hate even stepping back into this area of my life) quickly marrying this man.  What in the WORLD?!?!  So many of my high school friends graduated high school and immediately got married, so to me, this didn't seem odd. Now...this is appalling.  His charm and promise of an exciting life of travel blinded me to common sense (insert eye-roll).  His job was in sales for time-share condos, so he immediately moved us to Ft Lauderdale, Florida. That's when the nightmare began....

This charming man suddenly became a monster.  How did I not know he was mean?  How did I not know he had to drink at LEAST a fifth of vodka a day or DT's would set in?  How did I not know he really didn't know what love was?  How did I end up in this position?  I was pretty smart, right?  I. Felt. SO Stupid.  Literally overnight, my life became a daily barrage of verbal assaults, physical beatings, sexual abuse, and unrelenting fear.  I was routinely forced to snort cocaine and be used for sex by his friends.  I was so ashamed of myself for getting into this situation.  I understood, for the first time, how battered women can't just simply leave.  There are so many ways that the mind is betrayed, it's just not that easy. The self-esteem, self-worth, guts, bravery, physical strength, emotional strength, doesn't exist initially for us.  It takes a long time to muster up those things to get away, and I understood that I had zero.

Too drugged up and afraid to fight, this scenario played out from Ft Lauderdale to Virginia Beach. He moved us frequently so I wouldn't have friends.  But in Virginia Beach, I found a friend in a co-worker, whose husband was a Navy Seal (this will be important in a bit).  I never told anyone of my situation at home.  On the outside, we looked like the perfect couple.  He knew where to strategically place the blows to keep me pretty.  I knew how to hide the bruises and tears.  I also became masterful at looking so very happy.  I was good at this my entire life.  It's a skill that doesn't leave us.  It was in Virginia that I started to understand that I NEEDED to escape somehow if I had any hope of living to see my 25th birthday.  But he controlled everything...the money, the mileage on the car, everything.  I decided to take a second job as a waitress, so I could hide half my tips for whenever I COULD find the guts to leave. My boss hid them for me...

The night that became pivotal for me..... he downed an unusual amount of vodka and drugs, and he boiled a pot of water.  He came to the bedroom where I was pretending to be asleep (sleep was an elusive thing for me anyway, between the violence and the lifestyle). He got in bed beside me and grabbed a handful of my hair with one hand and held the pan of scorching water in the other....”move b**** and you will wear this water on your pretty little face”.   That was the most scared I had ever been...because I was sober and there was nothing on board to numb my senses.  I was terrified and was afraid this would be the night I would either die or would be forced to defend myself to the point of...I didn't even want to think about it.  I. Didn't. Budge.  It seemed like forever, but he eventually passed out, and the pan hit the floor.  I ran....with only a torn t-shirt and underwear. I ran down the streets of Virginia Beach at 2:00 am.  God certainly had his hands on me. I'm lucky some other freak didn't pick me up.  I would duck behind shrubs or garbage cans when I saw headlights coming...I was afraid it was him.  I ended up at my friend's apartment, and that's when they learned what life was like for me. They sat stunned and in tears because of the shock I just revealed to them.  Her husband was the kind of anger that would have been dangerous for my abuser.  And because her husband was a Navy Seal, I felt SAFE.  For the first time in SO LONG, I actually slept for longer than a couple hours at a time.  The next morning, they went with me to get my things and my hidden tips from my boss, and I left Virginia and came home to Tennessee.  Navy Seals have a special place in my heart, and I still keep up with Lynn and AJ to this day!

I never fully disclosed my experiences to my parents. The shame was unbearable. I knew they would blame themselves to some extent, and they don't deserve that.  I still don't want them to feel responsible, for my stupid decisions and the horrible venom in other people's souls.  So I've kept it inside. It wasn't long after I returned home from Virginia that I learned that I was pregnant.  Why wasn't I on birth control?  I don't even know!  He probably controlled that too.  So many drugs and so much trauma. I can't remember much of that part of my life.  Anyway, by then I was in Memphis, working, sharing an apartment with friends, getting back on track, and about to start back to college.  I had already filed for divorce from this man, and I had heard that he was back in the area again. I still lived in constant fear and was constantly looking over my shoulder and in my rear-view mirror.  I could not FATHOM the thought of having his baby or the baby of one of his friend's conceived out of abuse and drugs and fear. 

The decision was made quickly.  My best friend from high school accompanied me to the abortion clinic, and it was an absolutely HORRID experience, burned into my psyche forever.  I KNOW I am a murderer, and I have very strong feelings about abortion now. I cannot justify what I did, but I absolutely understand why women feel like they have no other choice when they are coming from absolutely crappy situations with no support and nobody whispering the love of Jesus into their spirit. I get it.  I totally get it. 

Fast forward a few months. I'm settled in college, and again, I made stupid decisions. I'm still not
independent enough to take care of myself.  I STILL think I need a man to take care of me. So I jump right into another quick relationship, and we end up married a year later.  Sure, we stood in a church in front of a pastor and said some vows, but never, not once, did we seek God's input or His will in our relationship. That lack of judgment played itself out over the course of 16 years.  Our marriage was more like a business venture with children. There were no loving or nurturing aspects to it, and I became bitter for that.  We were in church and raising our children in church, but we still didn't have God in the middle of our marriage.  I resented the fact that everybody thought my husband was SO great, while at home he was totally different towards me.  I didn't know how to crawl out of the pit of never being good enough, valued, or cherished.  I sought God for real on this one, but didn't really know if I was doing it right, because again...I had never been discipled. I didn't have a CLUE about a true relationship with my savior, even though I identified myself as being saved.  I felt alone in a room full of people. I felt alone in a 16 year marriage.  I was smothering. Where was God? I was praying and trying to find Him. Where WAS He???

I know God can do anything He wants, but does He hold together something He didn't even PUT together?  I don't know.  So there was divorce #2...and it was was hard because I had children who were affected.  My husband and I BOTH did things that made it difficult and personal to each other.  I made stupid decisions at the end of our marriage like trying to fill voids with alcohol and with inappropriate friendships seeking encouragement and support that dangerously skirted emotional affairs.  He retaliated with embellished public humiliation.  This was the lowest of my lows, but it's also when I became the closest to my God.

During my ugly divorce, I changed churches and began attending with my attorney and her family.  This church was a completely different atmosphere and it was like somebody took the lid off my worship jar! What in the WORLD had I been missing all these years???  Suddenly I found what I had searched for. It was like The Lord was in that building, and in that Life Group, just waiting for me to show up!  It was there that I learned that God actually HAD been with me all those years and through all the stupid decisions I made. Likely He shook His head and rolled His eyes more than a few times, but He protected me.  I learned that He NEVER LEFT!!!  I learned that Jesus KNEW I was going to do all that stupid stuff, and He went to the cross anyway!  I learned He WILL avenge all the wrongs done against me.  He kept me alive all those times I was drugged up, abused, beaten, and emotionally spent. He guided me through ALL the pain and honestly...He made me WAY stronger than I thought I was.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

I had SO MANY conversations with The Lord and asked for forgiveness for my stupidity and sins during that difficult season.  That's when this absolutely BEAUTIFUL walk with Him began. I learned how to love and respect myself and seek HIM first.  Who knew I would end up walking this life with an absolutely AMAZING husband who loves The Lord and treats me like a princess...God's princess?! Who knew I would end up with such a heart and passion for missions and to help the oppressed (because I was oppressed one time too)?!  Who knew I would end up with such a DEEP LONGING to fight human/sex trafficking (because I was used for sex too)?!  Who KNEW?!  God did....GOD KNEW!!!!!  And I KNOW I am a forgiven, redeemed daughter of the KING!!!

I walk through life now, and I think about how incredibly HARD life was for me for a LONG LONG time. How different would it have been if the words of Whimsy had been spoken into ME at a young age???  I know the roads I traveled are the way they were because of my own stupidity and incredibly quick and dumb decisions...but I have actually grown to appreciate my course, my rocky roads, and the winding paths I have walked.  The most amazing thing about it all is that I appreciate my relationship with Jesus more BECAUSE of them and not in spite of them.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”  Isaiah 52:7

Oh thank you, Holly, for sharing the pain AND the beautiful healing and the love you have for your Savior now.  We are thankful He brought your darkness into His glorious light to heal you and help heal others. Press on are doing glorious work in the Name of Jesus Christ because of where you have been! We are your biggest fans! xo

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul." Psalm 66:16

Who is Whimsy?

Whimsy is a doll, yes, but she's also a story and she's a way to bring mothers and daughters together, and in a way, she embodies us all. She shows us that our lives matter and reminds each of us that we have value and purpose. Whimsy is a daughter of the King, just like we all are, living her own story of beauty and truth just as she is called to do.

Whimsy is coming SOON!

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